Theo has faced some monumental personal challenges during his short life, culminating in being suspended from school after bringing in a knife. He knew things had to change if he wanted to have a positive future.
Always physical and full of energy, Theo learned karate when he was younger – an idea of his mum’s as a way to channel his energy, and his previous school had offered some ‘self-esteem’ classes – but nothing seemed to help. He was making more and more poor choices, leading him down a worrying path of dangerous and anti-social behaviour.
“I’ve been coming to Empire since I was about 8”, says Theo, “but I dropped in and out, depending on what was going on at home.” He says he always enjoyed the physical aspect of the training, but only recently has he really started to notice the difference in his mood and self-control if he didn’t come to the club.
Theo’s coach and one-to-one mentor Justin and Empire’s co-Founder Martin Bisp say that since his school suspension they’ve offered more intensive support to Theo as part of their mentoring programme, outlining the risks of him staying on the path he was on, and encouraging him in his boxing. They feel Theo has it in him to become a professional boxer when he’s older, and their belief in him seems to be making a real impact.
“I used to get so angry”, says Theo. “But these days I know I’ve got a training session after school, it motivates me to get through the day.”
His attitude at Empire has changed so much that he’s been given some coaching responsibilities for the newer mentees, something he’s found he’s really good at. “Teaching shows me how much I’ve learned… I feel calmer”.
Another of Empire’s recruits to the programme is Dontae, who was also struggling with his behaviour at school, because of profound speech problems that often leave him feeling misunderstood and frustrated. Because of Theo’s relative experience at the club, he can give direction to Dontae when the other coaches are setting up a session, and the two of them have struck up a friendship.
Dontae is understandably reticent about speaking to me, but says he is getting a huge amount out of his time at Empire. In the couple of months he’s been attending training he says he has “really enjoyed” the experience, and seeing the boys working together in the gym, it really shows.
Theo and Dontae are both just 14 years old, and are just two of Empire’s young people undergoing the one-to-one mentoring scheme for different reasons. Both boys were referred by their schools, who are now seeing transformational change in the way the boys feel about themselves, which then translates into much better behaviour in class.
The boys were joking amongst themselves as we chatted that they used to get angry “over nothing” and that they’ve learned not to take things so personally.
Martin Bisp, co-Founder, explains their ‘Theory of Change’, which seems to be borne out by Theo’s experience: “It’s based on the assumption that someone’s behaviour, wellbeing, situation and the life choices they make are dependent on the way they see themselves, how they relate to other people, their friendships and how they see their future. That’s why we focus on personal development.”
When we met, Theo told us that he’s just successfully completed his three months’ probation at a new school, and his new teacher says that both boys are “handling things much better” since both starting the programme at Empire Fighting Chance.
Referrals are accepted for the mentoring programme from Empire’s outreach teams, young people self-referring, Youth Offending Teams, local primary and mainstream secondary schools, St Matthias Pupil Referral Unit, Avon and Somerset Police and 16-25 Independent People.
You can read the interview with Martin Bisp, Empire’s Co-Founder, here. You can read our other #thirtylives stories here and watch the film we made to celebrate our anniversary on Youtube.